Why the graves of Polish heroes are being dug up in Belarus

Frankie Vetch

 

Much of the ire of what we might call “Team Putin,” a vast if ragtag army of trolls, hackers and propagandists has been directed at Poland. One senior Kremlin official even claimed that Poland is seeking to seize land in Ukraine. In the real world, Poland has sheltered 2.5 million Ukrainians and is a steadfast supporter of the Ukrainian defense against Russian aggression.

Poland is also home to thousands of Belarusian dissidents, opposed to the regime of Putin’s closest ally Alexsandr Lukashenko. This may explain why the Belarusian leader has been accused of carrying out a bizarre, if sinister campaign to target Poland: going after its heroic dead.

Pictures circulated on Twitter last week showing freshly dug up graves in western Belarus. The graves belong to fighters from the Polish Home Army, a resistance force that opposed both the Nazi and Soviet occupation of Poland during the Second World War. One of the grave sites belonged to 89 Polish partisans who had died fighting the NKVD, the Soviet secret police. At least three sites, on land that at the onset of the Second World War belonged to Poland, were destroyed last week.

So why is Putin’s Belarusian friend digging up the past?

Aliaksandr Papko, an EAST Center analyst and journalist at Belsat TV, says that in “recent months after this full scale invasion on Ukraine started, the state propaganda, of course, has become more aggressive towards Poland.”

But even before the war in Ukraine, tensions were building. In 2021, in retaliation to sanctions imposed by the EU, Belarus was accused of encouraging migrants to come to the country and then cross over into Poland. More recently, Lukashenko has been replacing Polish with Russian and Belarusian in the country’s Polish schools.

Chief Specialist at the Centre for Eastern Studies in Warsaw, Kamil Kłysiński, wrote that the aim of this policy is “the Russification of the young generation of Belarusian Poles, which is intended to result in the eradication of Polishness from social life.”

While Lukashenko’s aggression towards Poland predates the invasion of Ukraine, since the start of the war Belarus has become closer to Russia than ever before. Targeting Polish graves is likely a signal of Lukashenko’s desire to further embrace Putin’s regime, whose feud with Poland deepens as the war in Ukraine rages on.

Attacking Polish war heroes will likely exacerbate already palpable tensions between Belarus and Poland. But the campaign has gone largely unnoticed in international media; perhaps because it is just another bizarre example of the scramble to punish those who defy Putin and his allies. Papko told me that there were around 500 more Polish war memorials in Belarus — and he is confident that Lukashenko will continue his destructive campaign.

We should take some comfort in the fact that Lukashenko and Putin’s efforts to sow division is only helping to bring Poland and Ukraine closer. This week, to show his gratitude for Poland’s support, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky submitted a proposed law to parliament which would give Polish citizens special legal status in the country. If the bill goes through it would most likely mean Poles would be able to access benefits like financial assistance and the opportunity to legalize their stay in Ukraine.

Is online “Hinduphobia” the work of Iranian trolls?

By Shougat Dasgupta

As a journalist based in India, it’s hard to escape the thrashing, abrasive rhythms of communal disinformation on social media. 

Most of the time, it has to be said, the disinformation comes from the Hindu supremacists pushing their divisive “Hindutva” ideology — think paranoid conspiracy theories about Muslim men seeking to marry young Hindu women in order to convert them; or a Muslim population explosion that means that the Hindu majority is at risk; or a worldwide campaign to defame the Hindu religion.

Now these once easily dismissed Hindutva trolls have academic support.

Research produced by the Network Contagion Lab at Rutgers University’s New Brunswick campus shows evidence of a steep rise in hate speech directed at Hindus. 

Using artificial intelligence technology, the researchers uncovered the dissemination of anti-Hindu tropes by white supremacists and Islamists on forums such as “4Chan” and a seemingly choreographed campaign by “Iranian trolls” to “accuse Hindus of perpetrating a genocide against minorities in India.” 

The researchers examined some 1.7 million allegedly “state-sponsored” tweets to show systematic work by Iranian trolls to sow discord between communities. It is unclear whether the researchers are suggesting that this fresh outbreak of Hinduphobia could or has led to violence and repercussions against Hindus in the United States. Or whether recent communal tensions in South Asia can be linked to online Hinduphobia. 

Certainly, Hindu supremacists are frequently guilty of propagating hate speech, prejudiced imagery, and disinformation about minorities within the country. But these findings will feed into the Hindutva narrative about global “Hinduphobia” aided and abetted by a fifth column of “liberal, pseudo secular” local intelligentsia.

A chief target, incidentally, of the ire of Hindu supremacists on social media is Audrey Truschke, an associate professor of South Asian studies at — Rutgers. It’s as if the university campus has become a microcosm of the conflict between Hinduism and their (real or imagined) global opponents.

From the virulent religious hatred expressed online by both Hindutva and “anti-Hindu” trolls, it’s a short imaginative journey to the virulent nationalist hatreds being dredged up in Russia and its ally Belarus.

Disinfo Matters looks beyond fake news to examine how the manipulation of narratives and rewriting of history is reshaping our world.

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